Headache Disorders Linked to Higher Risk of Hypothyroidism

Do you suffer from migraines? Cluster headaches? Tension headaches? Other kinds of headaches? All of them are related to a thyroid disorder, according to new research from the University of Cincinnati (UC).

Do you suffer from migraines? Cluster headaches? Tension headaches? Other kinds of headaches? All of them are related to a thyroid disorder, according to new research from the University of Cincinnati (UC).

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. As the body slows down, people with the condition commonly experience fatigue, weight loss, mood swings, and other symptoms. But what does any of this have to do with headaches? Lead author, Andrew Martin, a fourth-year medical student, his father Vincent Martin, MD, and colleagues at UC analyzed the results from a 20-year medical monitoring project, Fernald Medical Monitoring Program (FMMP).

A total of 8,412 people were enrolled in FMMP, which makes it one of the largest studies to uncover evidence on the headache-hypothyroidism association. The project had been constructed to look at health outcomes in people living near a former uranium processing plant 18 miles outside of Cincinnati, Ohio.

“We identified people with headache disorders and we followed them forward in time. It is a much stronger study than studies just looking at the association at one point in time. We also followed these persons for 12 years on average,” Andrew Martin explained in a news release.

Further results found that people living near the former uranium processing plant who also had headache disorders were 21% more likely to develop hypothyroidism, and those with possible migraine had a 41% higher risk. The data showed, however, that there no connection between uranium exposure and thyroid disease, suggesting that headache disorders were a true potential driver of the hypothyroidism.

As described in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, the team analyzed medication logs to identify drugs that are known to cause hypothyroidism. Even still, headaches were associated with the condition, as was obesity, female gender, and increasing age.

“It is possible that the development of hypothyroidism in a headache patient might further increase the frequency of headache as past studies have found that treatment of hypothyroidism reduces the frequency of headache,” said Vincent Martin, co-director of the Headache and Facial Pain Center at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute and professor of medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine.

However, researchers still aren’t sure how these two conditions influence one another.

“Regardless, physicians should be more vigilant in testing for hypothyroidism in persons with headache disorders,” Vincent Martin concluded.

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